Jimmy Carter and the Water Wars: Presidential Influence and the Politics of Pork (Paperback)

by Scott A. Frisch and Sean Q Kelly


CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title!

This brilliant book represents a leap forward in our understanding of the dynamics of congressional-presidential relations. It provides an answer––with hard data, both qualitative and quantitative––to an age-old question: Can presidents influence votes in Congress? Using data collected from the archived papers of President Jimmy Carter, the authors identified the members of Congress that Carter targeted and what he said to them. Using roll call data, the authors also identify which of these members sided with the president and which did not. Second, the authors also address the question raised by one of Carter’s top advisors: “...[I]f the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is talking to a member, and you’re talking with the member, guess who’s going to win…” Using data from the papers of Carter’s chief congressional rival (Tom Bevill, Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Appropriations), the authors show who the president was lobbying, who Bevill was lobbying, and who was more successful.

This landmark book also delivers a much better understanding of pork barrel politics. Pork barrel projects are expenditures included in congressional appropriations (spending) bills that are aimed at funding projects in the districts of House members (and states of Senators) that demonstrate a member’s concern for the “folks back home.” It is typically assumed that such projects help members of Congress to get reelected. Presidents—especially in recent years—have complained that these projects represent “wasteful government spending,” and they have sought to gain control over the appropriations process by limiting such expenditures. This tension between the branches, most recently evident in battles over congressional earmarks, has important implications for how Congress spends money and how budgets are determined in a democratic context: Should the popularly elected representatives control spending priorities in their districts and states, or should the executive?

Jimmy Carter and the Water Wars takes the reader into the maelstrom created by the framers of the constitution who awarded the “power of the purse” to the Congress but granted the veto power to the president. This is a critical book for all in political science and American studies.


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